Reconstruct the Past in Montreal

1. Where to Stay

Photo: Courtesy of Hotel St. Paul

Each room at the Hotel St. Paul (from 179 CAD) is decorated according to the hotel’s “earth, ice, fire, and sky” theme: Look for flowing tans, whites, reds, and blues. The in-house restaurant, Cube, throbs nightly with the city cognoscenti.

The friendly staff at Hotel Gault (from 199 CAD) seems to take your pleasure personally. Café au lait is delivered daily to your door, and bathroom floors are heated — intimate touches that help warm up the minimalist loft-style rooms.

Photo: Courtesy of Le St-James

The accommodations at the Le St-James (from 400 CAD) are only a few years old, but the former Merchants Bank building recalls legendary hotels like the Ritz in London, thanks to its grand lobby, high-tea service, Frette-bedecked beds, and amenities from Penhaligon’s.

For better access to nightlife, book the Loews Hotel Vogue (179 CAD). Elegant but unfussy, the downtown hotel welcomes pets, is near the strip clubs, and has great bathrooms with televisions and oversize marble tubs.

2. Where to Eat

Photo: Courtesy Toqué!

Montreal’s culinary superstars love their local ingredients, particularly regionally raised foie gras. Credit the craze to chef Normand Laprise, of the failed Flatiron eatery Cena, who made this global delicacy his specialty at Toqué! Depending on the season, find your foie gras seared and served with macerated plums or sliced thin atop an apple purée.

The best of the city’s Gallic bistros remains the revered L’Express (3927 Rue Saint-Denis; 514-845-5333). The restaurant, painted a Provence yellow, has Montreal’s finest frites.

Montrealers take their bagels seriously: Baked in wood-fired ovens, they’re smaller and sweeter than ours. Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel both serve standouts 24 hours a day in the Mile End, a neighborhood rich with ethnic eateries, like the upscale Estiatorio Milos (Greek) and the soulful Guyanese restaurant Le Jardin du Cari (21 Rue Saint-Viateur Ouest; 514-495-0565).

Photo: Courtesy Cluny ArtBar

A former foundry, Cluny ArtBar has furnishings made from recycled sheet metal that accentuate the rough-hewn, industrial space. Terrific sandwiches soften the aesthetics. Open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner on Thursdays.

3. What to Do

Photo: Courtesy Biosphere
Photo: Courtesy Saint-Sulpice Seminary

Start in the old city for an architectural trip through time. Saint-Sulpice Seminary (130 rue Notre-Dame Ouest) was completed in 1687 and is the oldest building in Montreal. Nearby Notre-Dame Basilica is a Gothic revival, and Montreal City Hall (Hôtel de ville; 275 rue Notre-Dame Est), a Beaux-Arts landmark. Fast-forward a century and you’ll see the Biosphère, part of the United States Pavilion exhibition at Expo 67. Also from the expo, Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 still houses people in its 354 cubes. Atelier BUILD won the Canada Council for the Arts Prix de Rome in 2004 for its take on contemporary housing in the Plateau district with structures called the Thin House, Twin House, Back House, and Box House. Frederick Law Olmsted’s Mount Royal Park and the 185-acre Montréal Botanical Garden are the city’s finest examples of landscape architecture. At sunset, have a drink at Verses for a panoramic view of it all.

4. Insider’s Tip

Photo: Courtesy Canadian Centre for Architecture

Architecture aficionados should visit the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a rare nineteenth-century structural treasure. The entire building is 130,000 square feet of exhibition space, a library with sketches and books covering everything from the Renaissance to Frank Lloyd Wright, and a theater. Take a tour on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m., or hear a lecture on Thursday at 6 p.m., both free. Through April, the main exhibit explores environmentally sound design practices. Outside, the garden is a narrative told via landscape architecture.

5. An Oddball Day

Photo: Courtesy Salon B Bibliocafé

For a truly surreal experience, start your day with a café au lait at Salon B Bibliocafé (4231 Boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-277-7778), a second-story coffee shop located above a funeral home. From the café’s catwalk, you can watch memorial services in progress; for something a tad less grim, browse the “Library of Death” for books on grief or play yourself on the “Symbolic Chessboard.” Having had your fill of the sweet hereafter, satiate your renewed appreciation for life by indulging in its simple pleasures: shopping, sweets, and sex. Pick up outrageously decadent bedding at Bleu Nuit (3913 Rue Saint-Denis; 514-843-5702) and antique furniture and housewares at the venerable Arthur Quentin across the street. Les Chocolats de Chloé (375 Rue Roy Est; 514-849-5590) offers the best chocolate in town (the shop uses Valrhona for sumptuous seasonal treats like the lychee-infused bonbon). Club Wanda’s (1310 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest; 514-842-6927) is the gentlemen’s club of choice. It’s one of the few remaining strip joints in Montreal to observe the no-touching policy, and loungy vibes make it popular with both genders.

6. Related Links

MoCo Montreal is a visual directory of the city’s modern, contemporary design.

A food-loving couple (she’s a pastry chef, he’s a grad student) documents its eating expeditions throughout Montreal on An Endless Banquet.

Montreal Food is an every-eater’s guide to city restaurants.

Midnight Poutine: Like Gothamist, but for Montreal.

Reconstruct the Past in Montreal